West Bengal archive

Poush Mela in Shantiniketan: an indefatigable tribal polka with dokra jwellery romancePrasad Moitra

West Bengal has been a land of festive and celebrations since an undeniably long period of its existence. There is something about the air in West Bengal that drives the festive seasons to a great height. I have been a part of this amazing culture for a long time, but like my friends from other states say, West Bengal’s culture and custom in festivals is truly felt in the time of Durga Puja. But I would deny to this wide belief as it is false for everyone who has actually explored the parts of West Bengal. There are is a frequent celebration of different festivals at all times of the year which is generously divided into a lot of different parts of West Bengal.
If you would ask me about my favourite festival other than the Durga Puja, then it would definitely be the Poush Mela of Bolpur. I am not getting into the popularity statistics but Poush Mela is as popular as Durga Puja but sometimes it gets unnoticed with the kind of cultural celebration it upholds. It is particularly celebrated in Shantiniketan which is also the birthplace of one of the most prominent noble laureates of India Shri Rabindranath Tagore. The name Poush comes from the Bengali calendar which means the time of December. The name justifies itself, as the festival is celebrated for a time of 3 to 4 days during the month of December.

Now, I have an ire to know about the place before I travel there and I would suggest you adopt the same if you are travelling as well. This enables you to have a broader viewpoint of whatever you come across in any destination. So, Bolpur Shantiniketan is in the district of Birbhum which is at a roughly estimated distance of 140 kilometres from Kolkata city. Generally, the place is popular for the Visva Bharati institute which is established by none other than Shri Rabindranath Tagore. It is believed to be a place of highest cultural values which I found to be closely correct upon my visit.
Now the origin of Poush Mela was a little bit clearer to me as the major attraction of the whole place was cherished in the memory of the late Rabindranath Tagore. So the celebration, before a couple of years was from the Tagore family which soon became a part of the ritual during the Poush (Month of December).

Vishwabharati University Department of Bengali

The Poush Mela is a colourful celebration which includes the heritage of a lot of cultures pooled together with the flavour of dance, art and a lot more. Needless to say, Poush Mela has become a part of the identity that West Bengal has throughout the country and the world. I had read it previously over the internet and magazines about the popularity of this December festival, but I was actually surprised to see so many people from foreign lands coming to Birbhum just to see the Poush Mela. So if you are planning on to read about it on books and the internet then I would suggest you drop that. Because the real charm of Poush Mela can only be felt when you make a trip to Bolpur Shantiniketan.

How to Reach?

I will not boast about a wild road trip to Birbhum because it is highly accessible from most parts of the country. Beginning with my own experience to Birbhum from Kolkata, you would be getting a lot of travelling options for the same. Birbhum is well connected with railway lines which are a convenient and cheap medium of reaching there. The East India Company made a strong impact when they established their headquarters in West Bengal and since then, the transportation is pretty accessible to this place. Other than the railways, there is a provision for bus services as well. Here I had a lot of varieties in choosing the perfect bus for myself. But since it took about 1 to 2 hours more, I preferred boarding a train. For the people who are travelling from other cities can go for the railways or the airways. It is well connected with metropolitans like New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and even other countries of the world. The airport of Kolkata is about 190 kilometres from Birbhum, which can be covered by a hired car or bus directly from the airport. The whole journey is extremely pleasant and would provide you with a short glimpse of the natural Bengal. Nevertheless, I had always fancied a trip that would have a good journey with a destination that would fill me with utmost happiness.

All about Baul Gaan

To understand what exactly Baul Gaan is, you would definitely need to read about it. I did the same as well but the charm of Baul Gaan is something that you would not find in the pages or book. Baul in its literal term means “madman”, and the people who are called Baul are basically musicians and poets who usually prepare verses for Gods who are the people. You might not find anything as Baul(s) outside of West Bengal or Bangladesh because they are primarily located here only. The whole community is divided into three major lineages which include Navadvipa Sampradaya which reflects the influence of Bengali Vaishnava and it is found in the parts of Murshidabad and Nadia districts. The second one is the Muslim Bauls or the Fakir Sampradaya which are the part of the culture in Bangladesh. The third one is associated with my destination Birbhum district which is believed to be the main source of the Baul tradition that is living today.
What I liked about the Baul Gaan Performance was their appearance. It is indefinitely catchy with saffron robes and body covering religious gowns with the same colour. The women were either wearing full saffron traditional Bengali Sarees or completely white attires without any jewellery. They also wore Rudraksha Malas which symbolises the prayers to Lord Shiva. The performance was completely based on poems and loud songs devoted to the gods and goddesses. To be very honest, deceiving the poems sung in their language was particularly hard but the essence of the poems had one particular line that caught me right. “What is not in the body is not in the universe” is a famous Baul proverb that is constantly used. They played Ektaars and folk songs like ‘Hridoy er maajhe‘to ‘Cycle er duto chaka’ which are pretty famous and lively.

A little about Kaanchghor

If you have a scheduled trip for Poush Mela like me, then at day 1 you would notice the rituals being performed at the Kaanchghor (Kaach Ghar or Glass House). It is the celebration of the acceptation of the Bramho Creed held up by late Devendranath Tagore. The Bramho Mandir is more popularly known as the Kaanchghor today.

What to Eat?

There is a wide range of eatery available at the Poush Mela. A lot of locals put up food stalls which are ready to serve with Bengali Dishes like Mathura Peda, Rajbhog, Gorom Ghuguni and some other lip smacking dishes that would definitely steal your heart. There is another popular dish called Patishapta which is my personal favourite at this place. I loved how they blend Milk, Rice and Gur to make this amazing dish.

Tribal Dance – Essence of Bengal

I met the Mela co-ordinator of Posh Utsav “Sourav Ghosh” holding Rabindranath Tagore Picture.

Without a doubt, this was a treat to all the travellers like me who wanted to dive into the essence of Bengal’s tradition. The tribal dance is generally performed in the first and the second day by the local tribes. These dances have the speciality of being ancient forms which are even older than the celebration of Poush Mela. They form beautiful postures along with traditional tribal clothes which truly define the beauty and elegance of Bengal’s culture.
What I noticed in these dance performances is, the visitors definitely get a treat for their cameras. So if you are into photography and want to capture the best of Poush Mela at Birbhum, then missing out on this would be saddening. I personally liked the way they were playing flutes and Dhols without any additional music to perform this beautiful form of art.

The 125-year-old fair was started by Rabindranath Tagore in 1891 to mark the foundation of Brahmo Mandir, which now is more famous as the Kaanch Ghor (Glass House)

Overall, the trip to Birbhum at the time of Poush Mela is a must for anyone who wants to taste the cultural depth of eastern India. I felt proud to have been a part of such a cultural gathering.